May 27, 2018
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Researchers: Exercise labels better at keeping teens away from junk food

By Georgia Clark-Albert, Special to the BDN

If cutting down on soda and other junk food consumption and increasing your physical activity are two goals you plan to work on in 2012, a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health might be of interest to you.

Annually, companies produce enough carbonated beverages to provide every man, woman and child with 52 gallons, or 557 12-ounce cans, each year. Carbonated beverage consumption peaked in 1998 when consumption was 56.1 gallons per person. Consumption of an occasional soda isn’t a problem, but over a gallon a week is really just too much.

Soda isn’t a problem just because of the amount of sugar it contains but also for what is lacking in the diet when it is consumed. Heavy soda consumption is associated with lower intake of numerous vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. If young people are drinking soda, they aren’t drinking milk. In 1978 boys consumed more than twice as much milk as they did soda and girls consumed about 50 percent more milk than soda. It didn’t take long for change to come about; by 1994-96, both girls and boys consumed twice as much soda as they did milk.

Because of the health problems associated with junk food consumption, the study author Dr. Sara Bleich thought it critical to explore the most effective strategies for presenting caloric information. Teens were targeted since they tend to be the ones that consume the super-sweet fizzy drinks that have been blamed for health conditions ranging from type 2 diabetes to obesity and heart disease.

People generally underestimate their intake of calories in general, and specifically their caloric intake from soda and other junk food. So the researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore posted three different signs outside corner shops to see which was best at deterring teens from purchasing soda that contained on the average about 250 calories each.

The first signed asked if they knew that the soda contained 250 calories. A second sign asked if they realized that this calorie amount was equivalent to ten percent of their recommended daily intake. The third question asked if they realized that it would take about 50 minutes of running to work off the calories in a bottle of soda or fruit juice.

All of the signs led the teenagers to purchase fewer drinks, but the most powerful influence was the calorie conversion to exercise minutes. To put the results of this research to use, what we need to come up with is a quick calorie to exercise minutes conversion chart that can be used along with the nutrition information required on restaurant menus beginning this year.

Legislation has mandated that nutrition information be on menus, menu boards and vending machines or otherwise available to consumers upon request for restaurants and food vendors with more than 20 locations.

So how can this help you increase your physical activity? You can have your soda and drink it too. If you decide to consume that 20-ounce, 250-calorie soda daily, just be sure that you allow 50 minutes daily jogging time to burn off the indulgence.

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at or email her at


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